One of the qualities I want most in a school board candidate is a willingness to push back against the administration and its consultants and against the groupthink that too often takes hold on the board. Sara Barron has it. The entire 250-million-dollar facilities plan, including the closure of Hoover, is based on capacity numbers so unrealistic as to be fictitious. Yet the current board members (and several of the board candidates) have swallowed them whole without any skepticism whatsoever. Barron, more than any of the candidates, has pointed out the flaws in the consultants’ capacity determinations and said that the one of the first things the board should do is revisit them. That alone is enough to set her apart.
She has pushed back against other outside pressures as well. Opposing the Hoover closure put her at odds with an influential group of east-siders who want that property for City High; looking at the campaign contribution reports, it looks likely that that stance cost her thousands of dollars in funding. She lives in southeast Iowa City, sends her kids to a school with a free- and reduced-price lunch rate of 70%, and has made intra-district equity a major theme of her campaign. Yet she criticized the district’s diversity policy when it was being debated, rather than just signing on to anything with the word “diversity” in the title. Even at the meeting between Hoover families and board candidates in late August – a naturally friendly audience for her – she ended up in an extended disagreement with some of the Hoover supporters on the question of whether other candidates should have opposed the Revenue Purpose Statement. (She supported it.)
I’m not going to agree with everything Barron (or anyone else) does if she’s elected. But I like that she thinks for herself and can’t be pushed around. I like that she has her focus on the broader public, not just the loudest voices (yes, including me) or the most popular clique (not me!). I like that she recognizes and values the role schools play in a neighborhood, and understands that the board should be more than just an efficiency-maximizer. She is doing, as well as I think someone can, the things that a decent candidate ought to do: confronting difficult issues; taking sensible, meaningful positions; and treating people courteously to boot. I wish we had more board members like that.